My wife and I and our two children live in the suburbs, near a river that’s almost always dry. When we first moved to town, full with new parenthood and home ownership, I imagined a day when we’d see the river equally full, gurgling banks a reassuring sign of personal and spiritual fulfillment. Sure enough, within a few winters, rains fell hard enough to fill the riverbed, and I eagerly took the sign to heart. Weeks later, when most of the water had gone, I once again lumped the river in with my impression of the rest of the city’s surroundings; semi-desert, barren, boring.
Since the pandemic began, a couple of times each week I’ve been riding my bike along a path that hugs the bank of the river, and I’ve come to look forward to these trips as a much needed way to release some the stress of “these times”. The funny thing is that now, nearly twenty years after we first moved here, I find I’ve fallen in love with the landscape that I once found so dull. I love the scrub brush, the sounds of the animals that hide in it, the bare infrastructure of water and power that crisscrosses the landscape, and the seeping of shadows in and out of the folds of the hills as the sun sets and rises.
Most of all, I love that no two visits to this world are ever quite alike; the clouds, the light, the wind, and the people who stroll, jog, and ride along the path are new every morning. These days, it seems arrogant that I ever dreamt of a rushing river here in this place that’s already full to bursting with life, form, light, and shadow. I’m not always able to receive what the landscape has to offer; sometimes I’m too much in my own head, stressing out or making plans.
One thing I have learned, though, is that the river looks the way it does simply because most of the time, it runs underground — not because it’s lacking in some way, but because that’s the kind of river it is.
When I visit our city in mapping sites and video games, they tend to show me the same idealized vision of the river that I imagined when we first moved in: a shimmering blue Nile running through a suburban enclave. I’m left to wonder just how often we miss the living water hidden in the earth beneath our feet, because we’re too busy projecting fantasies on top of it. And so today, I’ll take another ride out by the river, make another pilgrimage to the infinite world just around the corner, and try once again to see the divine that’s right in front of me.
Written by Erik Loyer
I collected stories about how faith kept people moving forward and put them together as a devotional for this Lenten season.
You can download the entire devotional here: